Attachment Theory proposes that the mother is more important; the father is an economic and social support to her and plays ‘second fiddle’ when it comes to relationships with the children. The theory itself focuses on the behavior of children in relation to their secure base (or attachment figure) when they feel unsure or threatened, and their exploratory behavior away from their secure base when they feel safe. When children feel scared, they will stay close to their attachment figure, and when they feel confident and secure and their attachment figure is close and accessible, they will go exploring.
A baby works out who her primary attachment figure is using the following two criteria: firstly, the adult’s speed of response to her crying, and secondly, lots of lively playful social interaction initiated by the adult. These two experiences are the greatest promoters of attachment behavior in the first seven months of life. The primary attachment figure does not need to be related to the baby, it could turn out to be a nanny.
Sir Richard explained how his father was in fact raised by a nanny for four years and subsequently felt the pain of separation when she left the family. There is an instinctive need to select a primary attachment figure and if a baby is raised by a succession of different people, she can’t work out who that figure should be.
Security and Exploration
It is important that security and exploration remain in balance. Fathers generally are better at providing challenging situations for their children and helping them to explore. A father is an exciting playmate. Mothers are better at providing the secure base.
To back this up we were later treated to a comment which had been made by the four-year-old granddaughter of our Chairman: ‘Daddy does the best playing, Mummy does the best cuddling’. Research shows that children do better when they have both a mother and a father in a secure family. Sir Richard proposes that this should be amended to show two primary attachment figures
Whilst this seems to be a ‘linguistic nonsense’ (how can you have two primary attachment figures?), he put forward the analogy (having had a career as a scientific and medical photographer) that there are three primary colours in light and when they are brought together, something special happens.
The Regensburg Study
Sir Richard then went on to describe the findings of the Regensburg Study which was carried out in Germany by Professors Karl and Karen Grossmann. In 1980 they recruited a cohort of 55 married middle-class couples, with children. Amongst the many tests that the children underwent was one which measured the level of their parents’ Sensitive and Challenging Interactive Play. This was done with the children when they were two years old and produced what the Study calls a SCIP score.
The social and personal development of the ‘children’ was investigated at the age of 22, and it was found that they fell into three distinct groups: high social functioning, competent social functioning and low social functioning. There seemed to be no explanation for how they fell into these different groups from looking at the early tests.
Then they realised that the information using the fathers’ SCIP scores had not been analysed. When this was done a correlation was discovered: namely, the group with high social functioning had fathers with high SCIP scores and also felt secure with their mothers, the group with competent social functioning had either one or the other, and the group with low social functioning had neither.
This was really the focal point of the talk. Sir Richard went on to say that it is important for fathers to be able to get fun from playing with their children. If they are prevented from doing so, then the ‘payback’ is reduced and they are less likely to want to stay with the family.
Questions and Answers
One member observed that she had often seen fathers playing with their children insensitively, and asked what the effect on those children would be. Sir Richard replied that these children would not become highly competent in social situations and, on the contrary, would become anxious individuals. He stressed that it is important for the parent to be sensitive to the child’s temperament.
There was also a question regarding the typical age for the formation of the primary attachment bond. The bond is normally visible at the age of 6-7 months, but babies can delay making the primary bond until the age of 12 months, although this is not ideal. It is not good for a baby to form a close bond with a nanny and then for the nanny to leave. If there are clear primary attachment figures and three or more secondary attachment figures then there should be a good outcome.